Urban development is most successful if the planning process involves a dialogue with multiple knowledgeable participants. This also breathes life into local politics. But this type of local engagement will need support from a specific minister for the built environment.
After this year’s election the Government should have a built environment minister. This was at least the recommendation of the Steering Committee for IVA’s Good Cities of the Future project. For two years the project has studied how to ensure access to attractive living environments for a growing population.
In order for these environments to become a reality – in both new and existing urban areas – we need cohesive and clear political leadership and a broader dialogue free from any form of silo mentality. More engineers with built environment expertise are also needed.
But producing vibrant and attractive environments is not just a job for municipal politicians and civil servants. An advanced and engaged dialogue involving many parties is what is needed to build these types of attractive environments.
“The strong political leadership that we need must therefore take an inclusive approach,” said Anna Bertilson, Director of Real Estate and Roads in Malmö, at the project’s final seminar.
In order for dialogue with citizens, industry actors etc. to be meaningful, the participants need to have the same level of knowledge on the subject. The general reasons for building at a certain location also need to be clearly explained.”
Anna pointed out that people get involved when changes happen in their own neighbourhood and their local knowledge comes in handy.
This is also true for socially vulnerable areas that need improvement. But knowledge of the real situation in a specific area is not often used as the basis for action, according to Anders Hall, Head of Development for the Swedish Police.
“Knowledge of the situation on the ground doesn’t reach high enough up the ladder, so decisions are based on statistics instead. And that’s when things go wrong,” he said.
Looking at current issues at the local level was one of the starting points of the project. Holding workshops based on actual challenges in specific municipalities was a successful model. Participating in these events were high-level municipal politicians, civil servants, construction companies, retailers and other private sector actors.
Peter Nygårds, who is a member of the Steering Committee, thought that this method, based on local themes, could have ripple effects.
“If more people get involved and a process is started, this could vitalise local politics. Perhaps the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions should drive this process forward,” he said.